School chief asks less pay, longer deal
Tonight, the All-Island School Committee (AISC) will vote on an unusual proposal from Superintendent of Martha's Vineyard public schools James Weiss to forego his scheduled four-percent salary increase this year and to extend his multi-year contract by two years.
Mr. Weiss presented his contract proposal to the AISC's personnel subcommittee on August 31. After a lengthy conversation, the personnel subcommittee voted unanimously to recommend Mr. Weiss's proposal at tonight's AISC committee meeting. The meeting takes place at 7 pm in the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School's library conference room.
Mr. Weiss's present contract runs through the end of the 2010-2011 school year. In that year, he would receive a four-percent increase. Instead, Mr. Weiss offered to forego the increase and requested that in return, the AISC extend his contract for two more years.
"In a sense, the four percent would be spread across those three years, with a zero the first year, and the rest of it in the second and third year," Mr. Weiss said this week. His reasoning is two-fold, he explained. "Number one, I believe we are going to enter negotiations next month with the teachers, assistants, custodians, cafeteria workers, and secretaries, and it's going to be a very difficult negotiation, because there isn't a lot of wiggle room this time around, the economy being what it is," he said.
"And for somebody to be able to point to my salary and say, this guy is getting a four-percent raise, and you're offering us whatever it is we're offering them, which probably would not be four percent, would not look that good," Mr. Weiss added.
Mr. Weiss linked his second reason to the economy. "Right now, Martha's Vineyard is certainly not Barnstable where they laid off 100 teachers, but things on the Island are beginning to get to the point where there are some difficult times ahead of us," he said. "And if spreading my raise out over a number of years would be of assistance, I would be willing to do it."
As for his request to extend his contract, Mr. Weiss said, "First of all, from my perspective, I'm happy in what I do, and I want to stay. And number two, I think going through this difficult time, having secure leadership might make some sense. So, some of this is personal for me, and some of it, I think, is also looking at the school district."
Several members of the personnel subcommittee commended Mr. Weiss's demonstration of leading by example.
"I would say that Jim has framed this decision as a political decision, that it makes sense in negotiating with the union and dealing with a non-union upper level management of his organization," AISC chairman Dan Cabot of West Tisbury said. "But it's also a personal decision, and I think we want to applaud the personal choice he's made to step back and essentially take a pay cut himself, and I think that shows great leadership."
In a phone call yesterday, AISC member Susan Parker of Chilmark said that she would like to find out tonight how her fellow committee members view Mr. Weiss's proposal, which she considers a sign of strong and sensitive leadership.
"I was very impressed with his gesture," Ms. Parker said. "It was given in the right way and for the right reasons, and I presume other school committee members will feel the same way. I think people will embrace it, because he's doing a good job."
Ms. Parker added, "I'm hoping for other stakeholders to take the same approach, because I think this sets a good example."
AISC member Robert Tankard of Tisbury agreed. "I thought it was a great move, to say that times are tough, and everybody's got to make a little sacrifice. I think we're lucky to have him."
In other budget-related business, Mr. Weiss said he also would make recommendations tonight to the AISC regarding possible salary increases for administrative and non-union staff. He plans to recommend no salary increase for administrators, he said.
"However, for the non-union support staff, I did ask for a pool of money to be available for salary adjustments, because in some cases, these people are secretaries and tech people, who are just like everybody else," Mr. Weiss said. "Their salaries are not that significant in cost, and for them not to have the potential for anything, when union people are going to get something, is different."